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Archive for October, 2017

Is anybody out there as worried as I about the future of marching bands?

I know, I know…Along the spectrum of things to worry about — Little Rocket Man, where we’re headed on medical insurance, mass murder from on high — the future of marching bands doesn’t rank very high on “the things we worry about” list.

Nevertheless, if you’re a marching band fan, like I am, you’ve got to be tossing and turning at night, just a bit.

Reason is, of course, the decline in popularity of football — the bedrock of marching band-om.

If parents continue in growing numbers to refuse to allow their children to play competitive football, the game will atrophy from the inside and could, eventually, go the way of boxing and horse racing, that is, consigned to the margins of organized sport.

As regular readers know, I’ve sworn off football. I don’t watch it and don’t read about it…other than seeing a few scores as I look at other parts of the sports section. Last year, I swore off pro football but continued following college football, mainly because I enjoyed going to University of Kansas games to hear the KU Marching Band.

But this year, I wiped the slate clean. The main impetus was news of a study of 111 former football players’ brains that showed all but one exhibited signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.

I haven’t missed the football at all. But I sure have missed watching the KU band perform at halftime, and I’ve especially missed hearing them play “Home on the Range” at the conclusion of home games.

With the crack in football’s foundation starting to grow, I got to wondering if any leaders of college band programs had begun envisioning a day when college and pro football were no longer headline-grabbing attractions. So, first I put in a call to the associate director of bands at KU. I didn’t get him but another staff member picked up and dutifully took down my name and number and the reason I was calling. (She also got my email address, perhaps thinking that would be an easy way for the director to blow me off, if he wanted to.)

Then I called the director of bands, Brian A. Silvey, at the University of Missouri. “Silvey” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

He was happy to talk about the subject, but, as I suspected would be the case, he wasn’t too worried about the immediate future of marching bands.

He said he thought the tradition would “continue on as it has for the last 100 years,” with college football being the “prominent showcase” for marching bands.

 

Marching Mizzou, at “Homecoming 101” in 2012

At the same time, he readily acknowledged the growing threat to football’s popularity and said that if it got to the point where the marching-band tradition also faltered, he envisioned aspiring marching band members swelling the ranks of a non-profit organization called Drum Corps International, based in Indianapolis.

About 5,000 young people participate in Drum Corps International each year, with the competitive season starting in mid-June and culminating with the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis the second weekend of August.

Now, that was eye-opening information for me. In the first place, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to here that if football fades away, the marching-band tradition will likely continue to prosper, albeit perhaps in more modest settings than massive college football stadiums.

And second, I’ve discovered a possible new vacation venue: Indianapolis, second weekend of August.

Road trip, anyone?

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Since the early 1970s, Rockhurst High School has had an inspiring slogan: “Men for Others.”

Rockhurst, of course, is known for its rigorous academic curriculum. But its overarching goal is to cultivate in students a desire and sense of obligation to serve others, especially the poor and underprivileged.

I’m sure that philosophy takes root with the vast majority of Rockhurst grads, but not all.

Scott Tucker

One of those for whom the message didn’t take was payday loan shark Scott Tucker, who, on Friday, was convicted in New York on 14 felony charges stemming from a $2 billion payday lending enterprise.

Authorities said Tucker’s multi-dimensional operation exploited 4.5 million consumers, charging outrageous interest rates and deceiving victims about loan terms.

Several other Rockhurst graduates got involved in the payday loan business, including Tim Coppinger and Vince and Chris Hodes, but they have not been charged with crimes.

Of those four, the 55-year-old Tucker apparently was the crookedest and greediest. He and his lawyer, Timothy Muir of Overland park — who was also convicted Friday — set up the business to make it look like it operated on an American Indian reservation and included Native American partners.

Had that been the case, the operation would not have been illegal. But it was a sham. Tucker actually operated the business out of an office building in Overland Park and had as many as 600 employees working in his online, high-interest loan business.

One of the most galling things about Tucker is that he used his ill-gotten gains to live high and conspicuously large. He became a professional race car driver, owned several Ferraris and Porsches and had a Learjet, an $8 million house in Aspen and a 4,400-square-foot home in Leawood. Almost every story that has appeared in The Star about Tucker has been accompanied by a photo of him in racing gear.

Tucker’s career in crime got started within about a decade of his graduation from Rockhurst. In his court-verdict story today, KC Star reporter Steve Vockrodt said Tucker spent a year in prison in Leavenworth after a 1991 fraud conviction. He probably would have been about 29 then.

Instead of using that year in prison to redirect himself toward becoming a man for others, Tucker apparently spent a lot of time refining his avaricious intentions. Vockrodt said Tucker started a consumer loan business in 1997 and went on “to become one of the pioneers in online payday lending.”

“For years,” Vockrodt said, “Tucker’s involvement in payday lending remained hidden behind shell companies and tribal entities.”

I have to think Tucker influenced other Rockhurst grads, at least by example, to get involved in the payday lending business. The others saw the money flowing like floodwater and couldn’t resist jumping in. I’ve also heard that quite a few other Rockurst grads made $100,000-plus investments in the payday lending businesses after being virtually guaranteed of big returns by buddies who were more deeply involved.

Two brothers of Tucker — Blaine and Joel — also followed Scott Tucker into the payday loan business, or offshoots of it.

In recent years, however, the Tucker empire and the easy-money deal Coppinger and several others enjoyed has come crashing down. Consider:

:: Coppinger was ordered to surrender bank accounts totaling $520,000 and to sell a house he owned in Lake Lotawana. He got to keep a house he owned in Mission Hills, but I believe he has sold it.

:: Blaine Tucker committed suicide in 2014, and Joel was recently assessed a $4 million penalty by the Federal Trade Commission.

:: Another payday loan operator, Frampton T. Rowland III of Mission Hills, committed suicide last October. Rowland, 52, was a Shawnee Mission West graduate.

:: Tucker and Muir, whose law practice was in Overland Park, are probably headed to prison. They are now on home confinement, awaiting sentencing on Jan. 5. (Tucker plans to appeal Friday’s verdict, and I imagine Muir will do likewise.)

Being a twice-convicted felon, Tucker may be an inveterate criminal. If he gets out of prison alive, I would give him no more than a 50-50 chance of going straight.

As for the other Rockhurst grads who got into the payday loan business, I have higher hopes. The ones I’m familiar with come from good families, and maybe they will develop — or have developed in recent years — a greater appreciation for the importance of what their teachers at Rockhurst tried to imbue in them.

Being “men for others” remains a  good goal. It’s not too late.

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Like many people, I’ve been thinking a lot about Stephen Paddock and where and why he might have gone so far astray from the general human track of wanting to live a good life and be a good person.

Today, with the benefit of an insightful sermon at my church, Country Club Christian (tee times available dawn to late afternoon), I closed in on a theory.

The sermon, delivered by guest preacher Dr. Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, was about the importance of physical touch. “We are hungry for human touch…” Dr. Volf said. “Redeeming touch…A touch of mutual delight.”

Dr. Volf’s springboard to that topic was a New Testament story about a woman, a sinner, who, after learning Jesus was having dinner at the nearby home of a Pharisee, went there to seek him out. Luke’s gospel continues…

So, she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When Dr. Volf began talking about the power of touch and the innate human yearning for it, my mind jumped immediately to Paddock.

The most prominent thing we know about Paddock is that he spent hour after hour, day after day, sometimes week after week, sitting silently in front of video poker machines, often winning because of his methodical style and skill level.

A New York Times story said: “The way he played — instinctually, decisively, calculatingly, silently, with little movement beyond his shifting eyes and nimble fingers — meant he could play several hundred hands an hour.”

Although he had plenty of money, he didn’t have much of a life outside the casinos. We know he was unfriendly and uncommunicative with neighbors. Yes, he had a girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who apparently left what had been a solid marriage of about 25 years to take up with the high-rolling Paddock, who had been a customer at a casino where she formerly worked. Danley has told the FBI that in recent months Paddock seemed to be deteriorating both physically and mentally.

…Well, if you don’t like people and your life has revolved for years around machines with blinking lights and electronic playing cards, what else would you expect?

He probably was disposed this way, but my theory is that over time those machines gradually drained and consumed whatever traces of human feeling and innate goodness he ever had. Just sucked it out of him, as steadily as pigs slurp water from a trough.

Again, he had the girlfriend, but I can see how, trapped in the vortex of the blinking machines, he could easily have withdrawn even from her. Very likely, at the start of their relationship they had significant physical contact, perhaps even genuine warmth, but I would be curious to know the last time there was “a touch of mutual delight.”

The fact that he sent her off to the Philippines and sent her, or her family, $100,000 to buy a house certainly indicates a desire to push her away.

Stephen Paddock, in short, had descended into nihilism. Nothing meant anything to him — not family, not money, not his girlfriend, maybe not even the blinking machines. Either that, or the machines’ insidious allure had erased all semblance of emotion and human meaningfulness in him and all he saw when he looked in the mirror was a black void.

Of course, that doesn’t explain how he catapulted to the next step — raining automatic gunfire on thousands of people a week ago today in Las Vegas. All I can think is that, from the recesses of his dimming mind, he decided not only his life was meaningless but so was everybody else’s. And so, in his final, nihilistic gesture, he tapped the only other skill he had kept up with — gun manipulation and usage.

Those people meant nothing to him. They were like those millions of electronic cards that had passed before his eyes on those screens; they were merely images to be manipulated — mowed down, in his demented perspective — to suit his will. His sense of physical touch, of human connection, was long gone.

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Does anybody out there remember Fairyland Park? The former amusement park at 75th and Prospect, which was later bisected by Bruce R. Watkins Drive, a.k.a. U.S. 71?

Many of you do, I’m sure.

But one person who obviously doesn’t remember Fairyland is The Star’s music writer, Tim Finn.

Finn has been at The Star about 30 years, and I would have thought he would have heard about Fairyland somewhere along the line but…

In reporting today that 1970s rock’n’roll star Bob Seger was postponing several shows, including one in Kansas City, because of vertebrae problems, Finn wrote the following:

“Seger previously performed in Kansas City in March 2015, a show at the Sprint Center. His history in Kansas City goes back to the mid-1970s, when he played at Kemper Arena, Municipal Auditorium and a place called Fairyland Park.”

I wish he would have at least Googled Fairyland Park so he wouldn’t have made it sound like it was some place in outer space.

…I arrived in KC in the fall of 1969, when Fairyland was well on the way to extinction. I missed the glory days — the 1950s and 1960s, when, according to Wikipedia, Fairyland “boasted 3 roller coasters, an 8 story ferris wheel (which was bent in half during tornado), a swimming pool (double olympic size — closed in late 50s), bumper cars, a shooting range and even a petting zoo at one time.”

In a 2014 KCUR-FM story, reporter Laura Ziegler recounted the long and mostly successful history of Fairyland. It was developed and opened on 80 acres by the late Salvatore “Sam” Brancato, a Sicilian immigrant and blacksmith who had come to the States in 1896.

“After settling in Kansas City,” Ziegler wrote, “he went into the grocery business, then began buying up real estate. He opened Fairyland Park in 1923. It would be in the family until its closing in 1977.”

It quickly became a popular destination, but it was fading by the late ’60s, in no small part because of civil rights protests regarding its largely “whites-only” policy. In the early ’70s, it turned to rock’n’roll shows to try to come back. Performers, according to Wiki, included REO Speedwagon, Dr. Hook, Blue Oyster Cult and Charlie Daniels. Obviously, Bob Seger performed there, too, although I didn’t know that until reading Finn’s story today.

The nail in Fairyland’s coffin, according to Laura Ziegler’s story, was the 1974 opening of Worlds of Fun. Among other things, WOF staged musical acts every Friday evening during the summer, as I recall. I remember seeing an Osmond-Brothers-type group called The DeFranco Family at Worlds of Fun and being enthralled. (A former roommate still trashes me about that. Truth is, after the ’60s, I lost my musical traction and stumbled around in the desert for several years, including being reeled in by disco.)

**

 

Like I said, I missed Fairyland’s heyday. But I do remember being there once. In fact, I have a photo of me and a young lady who were there on a hot Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember what the occasion was — some kind of gathering or party. At the time, I was a young reporter covering my first beat, the Jackson County Courthouse, where I was assigned from 1971 to 1978.

The woman I was with that day was Susan Reeder, who was administrative assistant to then-Jackson County Executive George W. Lehr.  

While Susan and I never dated seriously, we got together occasionally, mostly out of convenience. There was some mutual attraction there, plus some common interests, like drinking and partying, but nothing ever came of the relationship.

I have no idea what happened to Susan…if she married, if she is still in town, if she is still alive. I do remember that day very well, though, mostly because of the photo, which, in my opinion, is a classic.

I believe it was taken by a Star photographer who was there on assignment. I think we just ran into each other and he snapped the photo. The photographer might have been Vic Damon, who liked to take photos of reporters when they were on the job. (In this one, of course, I wasn’t working!)

In any event, check out this photo of a young JimmyC and his young date, on a Sunday afternoon when neither had a care in the world and were joyous to be at a place called Fairyland Park.

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Note: Commenter Tim Bross of St. Louis noted the resemblance between Susan and the late actress Jill Clayburgh, who died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2010. Here’s a photo of Jill…

 

 

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